Wiedmer: Vols begin to look like SEC's best

Wiedmer: Vols begin to look like SEC's best

January 19th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports

ATHENS, Ga. - Others can talk all they want today about what might have been as the Tennessee-Georgia college basketball game ended Tuesday night.

Maybe UT senior center Brian Williams should have been called for an offensive foul on his winning basket, and maybe he shouldn't have.

Williams wouldn't even blame those who thought the Bulldogs were robbed inside their own Stegeman Coliseum.

"You could call it how you want it," he said after the Volunteers' 59-57 victory. "Might have been a foul, maybe not. ... I guess he did box me out. I was surprised they didn't call a foul."

So were 10,523 stunned and angry Bulldogs fans. But the officials watched Williams and Georgia's Chris Barnes fighting for the rebound of a Tobias Harris miss from the corner. They determined Williams didn't commit a foul even though he was behind Barnes, who fell to the floor after Williams secured the ball and shot it through the goal less than half a second ahead of the horn.

"Last shot ... fadeaway ... SportsCenter Top Ten," Williams said with a grin. "I saw some tenths of a second left on the clock and let it go. That's the biggest shot I ever made."

It could become the biggest shot of Tennessee's season. The Vols now stand 12-6 overall and 2-2 in the Southeastern Conference after losing their first two league games.

As interim head coach Tony Jones said afterward of the Vols' SEC East win, "This is the toughest division in college basketball. The SEC might not be the best conference, but this is the best division."

Jones is certainly beginning to look like the league's best interim coach, even if he's the only one. And a coaching move he made regarding Williams may be the highlight of his time replacing suspended coach Bruce Pearl.

Unhappy with the play of his reserves, Jones ordered Williams to the bench in favor of John Fields to bring more maturity to the Vols when resting the starters.

The Vols not only are 2-1 in league play since Jones made the move, but Williams has played a huge role in each of UT's league wins, intercepting a pass at the close of the Vanderbilt game, then hitting the game-winner against the Bulldogs.

"All the credit goes to Brian," said Jones, who deserves much credit for calming these Vols through a 17-point deficit against Vandy and in Tuesday's victory. "When the decision was made to go with John, Brian was good with it."

The Vols were good all night when it mattered most. Twice behind by seven points in the opening half, they led by two at intermission. When the Dogs took back the lead on four occasions in the final half, UT always rallied, the final time on the Williams putback.

Another Jones coaching move to praise: Knowing that his team was deeper than Georgia, he decided "to play more than 10 tonight."

So 12 Vols got in the game, leading to a 34-28 edge on the boards, one more steal, one more block and five more second-chance points than the Dogs.

"I wasn't pleased with the energy," said losing coach Mark Fox. "But that's all part of the game. You have to learn to deal with that."

The Vols already have dealt with a lot this season thanks to Pearl's eight-game suspension from SEC games because of NCAA recruiting violations. That penalty temporarily ends when UT plays at No. 8 Connecticut on Saturday.

But regardless of what happens at UConn and beyond, Williams will always have his "SportsCenter" moment, whether he should have or not.

"I didn't even know it went in until my teammates started running at me," Williams said. "That's when I started to run away. That's how people get hurt."

That's also how basketball teams get well.